Liam Casey’s PCH launches Highway1 to incubate hardware start-ups in Silicon Valley

26 Jun 2013

Tech industry kingmaker from Cork, Liam Casey, CEO of PCH International

Supply chain supremo Liam Casey, the tech kingmaker gifted in guaranteeing the arrival of new hardware from the manufacturing floor to the retail outlet – or from the field to the fork – has launched a new incubator programme for start-ups in Silicon Valley called Highway1 that could see up to 20 start-ups a year seeded to the tune of US$20,000 apiece and introduced to vital supply chains in Asia.

Casey, who has built up a global supply chain empire headquartered in Cork that completes the journey between the OEM’s R&D lab to the cash register in stores all over the world, aims to apply the lessons he has learned to enabling potentially the next big thing in technology to get to market leaner, fitter and sharper.

The programme will be led by former O’Reilly Media executive Brady Forrest.

The twice-yearly programme will begin with around 10 start-ups engaged in a four-month educational curriculum that will be taught in San Francisco, California, beginning in late September at LimeLab, the Mission District design studio Casey acquired last year.

The start-ups will then move to PCH’s new US headquarters in the Potrero Hill area. This will be followed by a two-week module taught in Shenzhen, China, with an exploration of the vast consumer electronics supply chain in the Pearl River Delta, the main hub of China’s manufacturing industry.

Each start-up will be offered up to US$20,000 in seed capital for a 3-6pc equity, as well as access to office and product prototyping facilities with equipment valued at more than US$3m, one-on-one engineering, design and mentoring expertise and access to a mentor network with high-profile technology leaders compiled by Casey and Brady.

Brady explained the model is quite similar to the early days of Amazon Web Services (AWS). “AWS proved to start-ups that they didn’t have to invest millions of dollars in data centres just to get their ideas off the ground and the same should be true for start-ups who are willing to create the next generation of hardware and software technologies.

“Our goal in the first phase is to find 10 or 11 good start-ups who have a clear idea and vision for a product or set of services. The sweet spot is companies that are very young, with two or three people, a laptop, a dream and a prototype. We want to help them get started and figure out the next steps.”

Brady said PCH’s relationships with global retailers and integration into their supply chain could be an immense asset.

“When you look at what Amazon did with AWS, they didn’t seek venture funding or demand a ton of money from the creators. While hardware is a more expensive proposition we sincerely believe that in a good way PCH can be a good partner for an early company and can prove out a different funding model along the way,” Brady said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years